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editorial

Medieval theologians were said (mockingly) to have argued about how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

In our fallen, modern world, these sorts of logical summersaults are performed by Liberal Party officials explaining away exceptions to their own fundraising rules.

Globe reporters revealed this week that there are several such loopholes, and that lobbyists seeking to influence the government have been walking through them.

The exceptions have to do with when lobbyists may attend Liberal fundraisers. Party rules say people registered to lobby a given department cannot attend fundraisers featuring that department’s minister. The rationale is clear: Professionals working to persuade a politician on behalf of a client shouldn’t be paying for access to that politician. The risk of corruption, or its appearance, would be too high.

As it turns out, though, the Liberals have construed the rule to apply only to events with an explicit up-front ticket price, such as a $200-a-plate dinner. That excludes “donor appreciation” events put on for Canadians who have given $1,500 in a year – fundraisers by another name.

This has produced a perverse situation in which relatively small-time lobbyists are denied cocktail-party access to the target of their lobbying, while bigger fish are not.

The Liberals note that lobbyists who attend “donor appreciation” events must sign a form saying they will not do any lobbying. This doesn’t solve the problem: The mere presence of these paid political operators at events designed to show appreciation for the largesse of attendees puts ministers in a conflict of interest.

It’s true, the Liberals took an important stride in the wake of the 2016 cash-for-access scandal by publicizing attendance lists for party fundraisers, the only party to do so. But these same lists reveal that lobbyists are managing to work around rules designed to keep them from buying access to cabinet ministers simply by donating more money to the party.

That prompts a question fit for medieval theologians: If a rule is more easily breached by being breached flagrantly, is it still a rule? Maybe their Liberal successors can tell us.